“Bukowsical” Adds To The Outrageous (But Good) Productions At New Line

Charles Bukowski (Zachary Allen Farmer) haunted by everyday demons in his life at New Line Theatre's "Bukowsical." Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Charles Bukowski (Zachary Allen Farmer) haunted by everyday demons in his life at New Line Theatre’s “Bukowsical.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Scott Miller and his New Line Theatre never back down. Has a musical been a quick flop on or off Broadway? He’ll make it a hit and suddenly regional theatres are salivating to produce it. Is a musical considered too “out of the mainstream?” No problem, let’s give our audiences a choice and see what happens. Is this one too rude, crude and obnoxious? Let’s do it! And now, combining all three of the above theatrical no-no’s, New Line presents “Bukowsical,” the musical.

Ever heard of Charles Bukowski? Not even a lot of the local “literati” I talked to had been familiar with him. If they HAD heard of him, not many had read his stuff. He’s on the fringe of the beat generation and, if you know Ferlinghetti, Kerouac and other prolific writers of that era, you might have run across the writings of Charles Bukowski. The problem is, he ran off the rails more than the others. Despite living into his 70’s, his boozing, womanizing and other addictions made him a failure to most of the world and stifled his popularity so, it’s a perfect “case” for New Line. A sort of on-stage intervention.

Sweet Lady Booze (Marcy Wiegert) tempts Bukoski (Zachary Allen Farmer) in New Line's "Bukowsical." Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sweet Lady Booze (Marcy Wiegert) tempts Bukoski (Zachary Allen Farmer) in New Line’s “Bukowsical.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

More like a musical revue, we get to review his life in “Bukowsical.” From his early days being bullied by other students at school to the path of destruction he left in his wake by being in and out of reality and in and out of his creative mind, his was a tragic life. But in this show, this tragic life is treated more like “The Sound Of Music” than high drama. His chance encounter with Sweet Lady Booze, his hallucination of prominent writers of the time giving him advice and his random encounters with his One True Love all are given the song and dance treatment.

New Line veteran, Zachary Allen Farmer plays the ubiquitous Bukowski with the perfect combination of confusion and a classic stage drunk. Remarkably light on his feet during the many dances he struts through and the always steady singing voice are mixed with this solid acting performance. Joel Hackbarth is adept as well as he spreads himself over several roles including narrator for the proceedings and “Tennessee Williams” in that bizarre quartet of writers that urges Bukowski to “Get Dirty.”

An unorthodox moment during the uplifting tragedy that is "Bukowsical" at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

An unorthodox moment during the uplifting tragedy that is “Bukowsical” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

From Bishop Fulton J. Sheen to Mickey Rourke, Ryan Foizey pops in and out of Charles Bukowski’s life with verve and great comic timing. New Line’s favorite leading lady lately, Kimi Short, shows why as she handles a wide range of emotions as Bukowski’s One True Love. Unfortunately, she doesn’t always feel that special and it leads to a major turning point in his life.

The rest of the well-rounded cast provides solid work in multiple roles including a perfect dead-pan Sylvia Plath and unrelenting teacher by Chrissy Young, Marcy Wiegert includes Sweet Lady Booze to her “Bukowsical” resume, Nicholas Kelly gets to play, among others, William Faulkner while the unlikely trio of William Burroughs, Sean Penn and Swifty Lazar are all handled by the spot-on Christopher Strawhun.

The opening, title number of "Bukowsical" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The opening, title number of “Bukowsical” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Realizing what a unique show he has on his hands, Scott Miller brings us up from the depths of this rather sordid and sad life into musical comedy heaven. Incongruous numbers aided by the happy-go-lucky choreography of Robin Michelle Berger make you almost forget the despair and the unusual lyrics generously sprinkled with obscenities. Justin Smolik’s deft work with the small New Line Band gets the most out of the Gary Stockdale music while the book and lyrics by Stockdale and Spencer Green are clever despite the tragic subject matter and propensity for (Bukowski appropriate) foul language. In fact, the playwright/composer team was there for opening night.

Amy Kelley’s colorful costume design brought in that whole world of the beat generation and beyond and it’s all enhanced further by Scott L. Schoonover’s spare but effective set design and the workman lighting design of Kenneth Zinkl.

As you can tell, this is one of those New Line shows that’s not for everyone. If you’re easily offended, stay away. On the other hand, if you only get “slightly” offended by off color humor and sexual situations on stage, you might actually fall in love with “Bukowsical.” This just proves once again that Scott Miller is unafraid to bring anything to a St. Louis audience. And, once again, he manages to succeed. “Bukowsical” plays at the Washington University South Campus Theatre through June 22nd. Call 314-534-1111 for ticket information.

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